Opinion

Robert Ehlert: A day with the Statesman Editorial Board, and a farewell

A little bit about a lot of things — with a focus on the Idaho Statesman Editorial Board.

Though we usually meet at 10:30 a.m. Tuesdays, things worked out best for all involved to get together on Wednesday this week. We played host to University of Idaho President Chuck Staben during a morning session and to Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, in the afternoon.

Our meetings with the general public, community stakeholders and elected representatives provide an opportunity for guests to explain new initiatives and to answer our questions about past or present policies that affect Idahoans. Not all of their answers make their way into columns or editorials immediately, but they inform as we discuss the same matters down the road.

Staben, who has been on the job now for 18 months, is an impressive and engaging man busily circling the wagons of some of his goals for U of I. We remembered from our first visits with him that increasing enrollment was on his front burner. He discussed one of the steps he hopes to take — a plan to facilitate “direct admissions” to our state schools for qualifying Idaho high school students.

The idea came to him as he tested out the online University of Idaho application forms. Noting that the home address, transcripts, grade point averages and college entrance exam results necessary to apply already are available to the state, why ask applicants to fill in the information?

“Why not just get admitted based on whether (an applicant) is a qualified student?” Staben asked himself at the time. Taking it a step further, why not just send such applicants a letter in October or November of their senior year and inform them they have been accepted to the state school of their choice?

That’s a smart idea that the Idaho State Board of Education was going to be taking up Wednesday or today at its meeting. If it is approved, Staben estimates around 8,700 Idaho high school seniors could get such a letter — perhaps providing them the impetus to take the next step and, as we say, “Go On” and pursue college right here in Idaho.

Sen. Mike Crapo, like the rest of the Idaho congressional delegation, is back in the state this month connecting with constituents. All four congressional Republicans will be making appearances, going on radio talk shows and coming in to visit Ed Boards like ours.

If was two years ago at this time I challenged our delegation to do more open-ended town hall meetings. My idea of a town hall — which isn’t everybody’s idea — is a face-to-face meeting to listen to constituents’ concerns and field their questions. No filters. No avoiding potential protesters. No cultivating only “friendly” venues. I used Rep. Raul Labrador’s town halls as a good example because he is known for orchestrating such opportunities up and down his district.

After some back and forth with Crapo’s office, they seemed to take the challenge to heart. I attended a Crapo town hall in Caldwell a few months later, and the senator informs me that he has been hitting the road all over the state ever since.

His office identified about 200 incorporated areas around the state, and Crapo says they are at about No. 115 on the list in their quest. Good for him.

Addressing crowds ranging from a few dozen to a few hundred, Crapo says Idahoans are well-informed and favor issues such as the government and deficits — both of which, they tell him, are growing too fast: “They’re concerned that we are losing the America we know and love.”

Wednesday’s Ed Board was unique because the makeup of our group is about to change — which is part of the deal. You have likely read that Statesman Publisher Mike Jung, a good friend and a great ambassador for the Statesman, Idaho and the Treasure Valley, is leaving to become publisher at the News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla. His last day is Aug. 21.

Martin Peterson, a community pillar with a deep frame of reference on what makes Boise and the Gem State sparkle, will rejoin us on the Ed Board in the interim — serving with me, Angie Nelson and Ben Ysursa.

Our job, as always, will be to listen, confer and come up with opinions about preserving what Mike Jung often refers to as “this special place.”

Robert Ehlert is the Statesman's editorial page editor. Reach him at 377-6437 or follow @IDS_HelloIdaho.

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